Thinking about Solar Potential

Iowa is a national leader in terms of wind power.  As it stands now, the state gets about one-quarter of its electricity from the wind.  Many projects, including a recently announced $1.9B project by MidAmerican Energy, will keep pushing that percentage higher.

But what if wind power was not the sole solution?

Well, what is the problem we are trying to solve?  The elimination of fossil fuels to generate electricity is my goal and I think that Iowa has the potential to get there.

In a prior post I wrote about the level of windpower investment required to eliminate fossil fuels from the power equation.  Depending upon how you add up the numbers with regard to projects in the pipeline Iowa is almost 75% of the way there.

Assuming that these projects do not all happen for various reasons, what are the other options?  Disregarding hydropower, which is a solution for some locales but not a state like Iowa, the solution, in terms of renewables, must be solar.

“Solar cannot work in Iowa!” the naysayer says.  Really?

Germany is a leader in the deployment of solar photovoltaic technology.  That country is never thought of as being sun drenched like its southern EU compatriots Spain or Greece.  Do not even think of comparing Germany’s solar radiation with North Africa’s.  So, solar works in places that are not thought of as ideal.  Got it.

In 2012, Germany is estimated to have produced 28,000 GWh of solar electricity.  Iowa is about 41% the physical size of Germany, so if Iowa deployed solar in proportion to geographic size the generation potential would equal 11,480 GWh of solar electricity on an annual basis.  What does that number mean?

In 2010, Iowa produced about 57,508 GWh of electricity.  Assuming the numbers for the last full year are similar, the state would have produced about 43,131 GWh of electricity using fossil fuel or other non-renewables.  This assumes that 25% of the state’s electricity generation came in the form of wind power.   At the deployment figure stated above, 11,480 GWh, solar could easily account for approximately 27% of the state’s electricity generation.

A side benefit to deploying solar is that it tends to be at a production peak that is counter cyclical to wind power’s production peak, which levels out the demands on the grid.

It’s total “pie in the sky” territory, I realize, but it’s fun to run the numbers and see how close we could be to a time when we no longer burn fossil fuels to watch Whale Wars.

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